Seen at the Movies:

Secret Window

is a lazy, predictable thriller made worth seeing, if at all, by the reliably offbeat antics of star Johnny Depp. He plays a Stephen King-like author (the movie is based on Stephen King novella) who holes up in an upstate New York cabin to nurse his wounds over the breakup of his marriage to Maria Bello. A menacing, drawling John Turturro soon turns up, leveling the charge of plagiarism at Depp. A cute doggie is brutally murdered, a house is burned down, and then there’s a supposed twist that is clearly telegraphed a good half-hour in advance. Writer-director David Koepp doesn’t exactly pour his heart and soul into this thing, but a shambling, disheveled, and mutteringly self-amused Depp gives it his all, aided by expert hairstyling and costume design (by Odette Gadoury); his character is most often seen wearing his wife’s ratty old robe as if it were a second skin. Fred Murphy is the able DP and Howard Cummings is the production designer, and neither of them can make Quebec pass believably for anywhere within a couple hours’ drive of New York City.


Secret Window, Photo: Columbia Pictures

Speaking of apparent hair and clothes, I finally caught up with Miracle, starring Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks, the hockey coach who led the US team to victory over the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Stylist Robert A. Pandini gives Russell a black helmet of hair that evokes all those deeply square men who tried to get a little hip in the 1970s. Blinding plaid trousers and leisure suits are on the sartorial bill, and one can almost picture costume designer Tom Bronson holding the polyester threads at arm’s length while using his other hand to hold his nose. In any case, Gavin O’Connor’s movie has its share of banal dialogue, but Russell’s unsentimental performance and the use of athletes and unknowns to play the young team members give it a freshness. The climactic match is thrillingly edited and shot (by Dan Stoloff), even if the "inspirational" music doesn’t let up for a second.


Miracle: Chris Large/Buena Vista Pictures

Today is the first day of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series, which sneak previews French films that haven’t been released here yet, and some that may never be released. One example of the latter may be Not on the Lips, a characteristically eccentric entry by Alain Resnais, the Nouvelle Vague auteur who hasn’t seen one of his films get widespread American distribution in many years. His latest is a musical soufflé based on a 1925 French operetta. The stars include Sabine Azéma, Audrey Tautou, Pierre Arditi, and Lambert Wilson, and the theatrically stylized sets are by Jacques Saulnier. The 20s couture, replicated here by costume designer Jackie Budin, is a real treat, and helps to get one over the movie’s more arch passages. Only Renato Berta’s rather flat cinematography is a letdown.


Not On The Lips

Other films in the series, which runs at the Walter Reade Theater through March 21, include Anne Fontaine’s Nathalie, Antoine de Caunes’ Monsieur N. (about Napoleon), Guillaume Nicloux’s Hanging Offense, Siegfried’s Sansa, Pierre Salvadori’s After You, Gilles Bourdos’ A Sight for Sore Eyes, Merzak Allouache’s Chouchou, Siegrid Alnoy’s She’s One of Us, Gilles Marchand’s Who Killed Bambi?, Robert Salis’ Grande Ecole, Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf, Noémie Lvovsky’s Feelings, Philippe de Guay’s The Cost of Living, and Bruno Dumont’s Twentynine Palms, a violent film with possibly the greatest buzz (it opens here in April). Many of the films are already sold out. For more information, go to the Film Society of Lincoln Center website.--John Calhoun

Seen on Broadway: Lincoln Center Theater is a veritable House of Lords this season. First up was its riveting (if somewhat over praised) Henry IV; now comes King Lear, an import from the Stratford Festival of Ontario. Jonathan Miller directs with an eye toward simplicity; you’ll find none of those aggravating and self-indulgent directorial "touches" here. Instead, in a notion so quaint it’s just about radical, he elects to concentrate our full attention on the Shakespearean text, by grounding it at the Vivian Beaumont on a bare stage with an Elizabethan set and low-key lighting and effects. The result is far more mesmerizing than going the "avant-garde" route and forwarding the action to present-day Iraq, with hip-hop interjections, or something equally preposterous.

With Christopher Plummer as Lear, there’s no need for any further attention-grabbing. It’s a magisterial performance that never loses its human dimension, and if anything amplifies that attribute; he’s likely to strike you as more of an emotionally frail, aging parent—your emotionally frail, aging parent—than as an increasingly haggard monarch, struggling to make sense of his dynasty. He brings the play home to us. The supporting players are uneven, but their presentation is suggestive: The "Poor Tom" guise adopted by Edgar (Brent Carver) is strikingly Christ-like, and the Kabuki-style white-face worn by the Fool (Barry McGregor) put me in mind of Akira Kurosawa’s superior transposition of the story, Ran.


King Lear at Lincoln Center. Photo: Joan Marcus

The environment is eloquently plain-spoken. Returning from Henry IV, Ralph Funicello contributes a set that is modest in its own majesty. It is hauntingly lit by Robert Thomson, who never reaches for spectacle; simple leaf patterns for the heath, nothing overstated or showy for the storm, which sound designer Scott Anderson keeps to a credibly ominous roar. Which is not to say that this production lacks in color—much of that is in Clare Mitchell’s costumes. Lear is suitably resplendent in his kingly garb, while the men of the court (besides the uniformed officials) wear brown/burgundy ensembles that are careful not to upstage their majesty’s. [As the play unfolds, of course, Lear’s clothes deteriorate beyond the level of those of the Fool, to tatty bed-wear.] Regan and Goneril are all high style, however; Mitchell has compared their gowns to the extravagance of Versace, with Cordelia’s outfits more pure and Armani (her overall inspiration was Anthony Van Dyke’s 17th-century portraits).

Gerald Altenburg’s wigs and makeup are covered in the April issue of Entertainment Design. Of Plummer, he says, "I worked with Christopher on Barrymore, a Livent production for which he eventually won a Tony. I went on tour with him briefly and got close to him; we spent 50-60 minutes a night together on that show. But after its Fort Lauderdale, FL, engagement, right before it came to Broadway, I had to depart; I had a wife and kids and other responsibilities and I just couldn’t afford to leave everything in Canada for a year. So I was ecstatic when he came back to Stratford in 2002 and could work with him again. He said to me, ‘You’d better get your ass down to New York this time.’ I have and I’m very happy about it." All hail this King Lear.--Bob Cashill

Seen at the Met: Things are looking up at the Metropolitan Opera House, at least they are looking a little more modern, which is definitely to my liking. Although in the case of their new production of Don Giovanni, many of the Met’s patrons are bemoaning the loss of the old Zeffirelli production. The new verison, with sets designed by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Christine Rabot-Pinson and lighting by Jean Kalman gives the opera a clean look, with large brick walls sliding into various configurations as the scenes change. The look is perhaps a bit spare, but I felt the decor provided an uncluttered backdrop for the singers (who were truly superb!) and allowed the story line to come through loud and clear. The costumes were period, yet with a modern feel, with color added for the country folk who are enjoying a wedding when Don Giovanni happens upon them and sets out to seduce the bride. Two women he has scorned appear in long dark dresses and capes with Venetian carnival masks and hats, as if going to the Doge’s palace for a costume ball. In the end, all are unmasked and Don Giovanni is confronted by a ghost and disappears in a cloud of smoke. Kalman’s lighting is somewhat dark in some scenes, yet effectively grazes the texture of the faux brick with light, and provides interesting contrasts with shadows and light. The overall effect is striking and hopefully the Met audiences will warm to the look of Yeargan’s designs.


Don Giovanni at The Met.

A quite stunning production that also met with some quizzical faces at the Met is Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, a revival from 1995. Faced with Mark Thompson's set, a virtual tunnel with very few openings for lighting positions, LD Paul Pyant used automated luminaires on the inside top of a picture frame proscenium. The white proscenium frames a dark painted scene of a Russian park, setting the mood for the turmoil later seen in the opera. A bright St. Petersburg park scene at the end of the eighteenth century sparkles with Pyant's look of "sunlight breaking through the cold." The brightness is echoed in a painted bright blue backdrop at the bottom of which are scale models of the Winter Palace buildings, their gold domes glittering in key light. In contrast to the cold, white look of the first scene, the next scene takes place in a warm yellow cocoon of Lisa's bedroom. A final scene in a gambling parlor gets applause as the curtain goes up on a large round table surrounded by at least 50 soldiers drinking and gambling their way to the denouement of the opera. Thompson, who is from the UK, as is Pyant, also designed the costumes, which include towering powered wigs on the women, and skirts that are so large they must have metal armatures to support the fabric. The look is exaggerated but successful. --Ellen Lampert-Gréaux


Queen of Spades at The Met.